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Centre point for Europe-wide route

Brussels is at the centre of Europe's new high-speed PBKAL rail system, one of 14 Trans-European Network projects prioritised by the European Commission and attracting a total of Ecu17bn EC funding.

The initials stand for Paris, Brussels, Koln/Frankfurt, Amsterdam and London. When the five national governments signed up for the network in 1989, they intended it to be finished by 2005. The French lines are long completed.

Section two of Britain's Channel Tunnel Rail Link will miss the deadline by two years, as will the new Koln-Aachen line in Germany. The Netherlands spine is running slightly behind programme.

Belgium is about on schedule with its contribution: three lines radiating north, east and west from Brussels to the Dutch, German and French borders. The western branch, which consists of 71km of new route for 320km/h speeds and 17km of existing line upgraded to 220km, is complete.

Site work is now peaking on the eastern branch, with 33km being upgraded between Brussels and Leuven, 62km of new line being built from Leuven to Bierset (where rails are being laid for a 2002 opening) and a further 54km mix of new and upgrade from Bierset to the border.

The most significant civil engineering still to complete is a stunning new station designed by Santiago Calatrava, under construction in Liege, and a difficult 6.2km twin track tunnel at Soumagne where work is about to start.

The most spectacular civils work of all will be on the northern branch at Antwerp, where the track has to dive underneath the terminal and the city centre as part of the 45km of new railway being built, along with a 46km of upgraded line.

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